John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
|Focus||Public policy, media, the arts|
|John D. MacArthur (co-founder)
Catherine T. MacArthur (co-founder)
|Endowment||$6.5 billion (2014)|
|Slogan||"Committed to building a more just, verdant & peaceful world."|
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is the 12th-largest private foundation in the United States. Based in Chicago, the Foundation supports non-profit organizations in approximately 50 countries. MacArthur reports that it has awarded more than US $5.5 billion since its first grants in 1978. According to the Foundation, it has an endowment of $6.5 billion and provides approximately $225 million annually in grants and program-related investments.
The Foundation's stated aim is to support "creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world." MacArthur's grant-making priorities include mitigating climate change and reducing prison populations. The Foundation sponsors the MacArthur Fellows Program, also referred to as “genius grants,” which are $625,000 no-strings-attached awards annually granted to about two dozen individuals in diverse fields.
John D. MacArthur owned Bankers Life and Casualty and other businesses, as well as considerable property holdings in Florida and New York. His wife, Catherine T. MacArthur, held positions in many of these companies. Their attorney, William T. Kirby, and Paul Doolen, their CFO, suggested that the family create a foundation to be endowed by their vast fortune. MacArthur originally set up the MacArthur Foundation for tax avoidance reasons.
When MacArthur died on January 6, 1978, he was worth in excess of $1 billion and was reportedly one of the three richest men in the United States. MacArthur left 92 percent of his estate to begin the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The composition of the Foundation’s first board of directors, per MacArthur’s will, also included J. Roderick MacArthur, John's son from his first marriage, two other officers of Bankers Life and Casualty, and radio commentator Paul Harvey. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, later joined the Foundation's board of directors.
MacArthur was a capitalist, and the Foundation’s original 1970 deed said that one purpose of the foundation was to support "ways to discover and promulgate avoidance of waste in government expenditures." However, MacArthur did not spell out specific parameters for how his money was to be spent after he died. MacArthur told the Foundation's board of directors, "I figured out how to make the money. You fellows will have to figure out how to spend it."
Between 1979 and 1981, John's son J. Roderick MacArthur, an ideological opponent of his father with whom the elder MacArthur had an acrimonious relationship, waged a legal battle against the Foundation for control of the board of directors. The younger MacArthur sued eight members of the board, accusing them of mismanagement of the Foundation's finances. By 1981, most of the original board had been replaced by members who agreed with J. Roderick MacArthur's desire to support liberal causes. This ultimately resulted in the creation of what, in 2008, Martin Morse Wooster called 'one of the pillars of the liberal philanthropic establishment.'" In 1984, MacArthur again sued the board of directors, asking a Cook County circuit court to liquidate the entire MacArthur Foundation. He dropped the suit later that same year when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
John E. Corbally, the first president of the Foundation and later board chairman from 1995 to 2002, was followed in 1989–99 by Adele Simmons, who was the first female dean at Princeton University. Jonathan Fanton, president of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, served as the Foundation's next president. Robert Gallucci, formerly dean of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, served as the Foundation's fourth president from 2009 to 2014. Gallucci was fired in 2014, with the Foundation's board announcing it was "looking for a new kind of leadership." Julia Stasch, who formerly served as MacArthur's vice president for U.S. Programs, was named the Foundation's new president in 2015. Stasch had formerly served as chief of staff to Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley.
The MacArthur Fellowship is an award issued by the MacArthur Foundation each year, to typically 20 to 30 citizens or residents of the United States, of any age and working in any field, who "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work." The program was initiated in 1981. According to the Foundation, the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but an investment in a person's originality and potential. Dr. George Burch of Tulane University is credited with conceiving of the idea for the MacArthur Fellow program. MacArthur Fellows receive $625,000 each, which is paid out in quarterly installments over five years. No one can apply for the program, and no one knows if they are being considered as a candidate. A secret nominating process selects Fellows.
A competition launched on June 2, 2016, will award a $100 million grant to a single proposal designed to help solve a problem affecting people, places, or the planet. The Foundation’s competition, called "100&Change", is open to organizations working in any field of endeavor. Applicants must identify both the problem they are trying to solve, as well as their proposed solution. Competitive proposals must be meaningful, verifiable, durable and feasible.
In May 2016, Phillip Jackson, former CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority and the founder of the Black Star Project, criticized the MacArthur Foundation for the racial homogeneity of its grant recipients. Jackson wrote that in 2015, the foundation gave $56 million to Chicago causes, but only $375,000, or one-tenth of 1 percent, went to "black-led organizations that primarily serve Chicago's black communities." Jackson recommended that since "Chicago's population is about 33 percent black and 29 percent Latino, one-third of its $56 million in grants, about $18 million, should have been awarded to black organizations. And instead of a mere $159,000, about $16 million should have been awarded to Latino organizations." In response, MacArthur President Julia Stasch wrote that Jackson's critique "inaccurately and grossly understated our efforts to address the urgent problems that confront our city" and that "Since 1979, we have provided $1.1 billion in grants and direct impact investments to Chicago organizations—more MacArthur funds than to any other place in the world."
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